After having such a positive experience on the London food tour, Sandra thought we should try one in Amsterdam since neither of us knew much about Dutch cuisine.
We were especially excited about the one we found, as it took us through the upcoming Jordaan neighborhood. This area originally was for the working class, full of warehouses and even the slums of Amsterdam. It has now been revitalized with new shops and cafés, and has become a very desirable (and thus expensive) place to live.
While discovering a bit about this area, we got to eat a ton of food and learned that, interestingly, the Dutch are known to have quite a bland palate with little use of spice. One of the most popular snacks is a simple sandwich made with one slice of cheese.
Despite this, there are a few well known Dutch foods we got to enjoy, including apple pie and Gouda cheese. But, enough with the chatter and onto the food of our Jordaan food tour:
Dutch Apple Pie
Our Jordaan food tour started the best way possible: with dessert. We went to Cafe Papeneiland, which is a “brown cafe” – the Dutch equivalent of an English pub with dark, wooden interiors (hence the “brown”) and a laid back drinking atmosphere.
Here we had a giant piece of apple pie, which the Dutch are known for and quite proud of. Dutch Apple pie differs from the usual in its use of cinnamon and lemon juice in the recipe, plus a different kind of cake-like crust.
This cafe has been making the same recipe of apple pie for hundreds of years, and apparently all the men in the family are named the same. So, if you step inside and call out their name for service, you’ll never be wrong!
Perhaps the best part of this whole encounter was that at the end of our pie tasting, one of our North American counterparts pulled a grocery bag out of her purse and dumped the remainder of her pie right in. She then squished the whole bag back into her purse as our guide looked at her in disbelief and some disdain.
Dutch cheese = the famous Gouda, named after the Netherlands town of Gouda. Interestingly, “Gouda” doesn’t actually refer to a type of cheese, but instead to a way of manufacturing cheese. During the cheese making process some of the whey is replaced with water, making a sweeter cheese. With its yellow or red wax coating, Gouda (“HOW-dah”) is easily recognized.
In Holland, this cheese (as well as some other popular ones like Edam, Dutch Emmental or goats cheese) is typically mixed with seeds, such as cloves or cumin. And PS – if you’re ever hungry in Amsterdam, walk into a cheese shop. There are endless samples everywhere!
What better way to try this than on a canal, riding a tiny 105 year old boat for an hour, sipping complimentary champagne and beer? Speaking of beer…
I honestly was not excited much about the beer in the Netherlands, especially considering that we were heading to Belgium after, but I have been pleasantly surprised after having a few of the small brews.
Most people can only name Heineken as a Dutch beer, but do not judge the Netherlands by this beer alone (as it is probably the worst one… just being honest). If you are looking for a standard Dutch lager, a good place to start is Grolsch or Amstel.
If you are looking for something that is more uniquely Dutch, definitely try Brouwerij ‘t IJ. This is one of the better beers I have tasted. The zatte (tripel) rivals and surpasses many of its Belgian counterparts and the ijwit (wheat beer) has a nice sweet finish.
The Dutch love their deep fried food. The #1 favorite snack is the bitterballen: a delicious little deep fried ball that is filled with a ragu meat and cheese (“deep fried gravy” a member of our group called it). We really liked these and could have eaten about a thousand of them.
Given that Indonesia and Suriname were Dutch colonies, there is a substantial Surinamese food culture that many may not realize. We went to a cute little shop where we sampled some deep fried plantain with the best peanut sauce I have ever had in my life!
Fried food is very accessible when you get the munchies with these little stands with snacks ready to go at any time; just put in your money, open the oven door, and enjoy.
Meat: Oxen, Herring, and More
As a sea town, there are a few dishes popular here in the Netherlands. Fish and chips are always tasty, and herring is a real source of pride. They love this fish so much they have an annual celebration for the first herring harvest! We got to have some of this delicate and buttery raw fish, and Sandra was very satisfied.
As for meat, we sampled a few things including ossenwurst (a special Dutch variety of smoked sausage). It was originally made from oxen that is smoked and never heated to more than 32 degrees. The meat is then made into a sausage that looks somewhat like a raw hamburger patty when cut. Once you got over the texture the meat was deliciously tender and smoky.
Outside of apple pie, the most famous Dutch sweet is salted liquorice. Which we politely tried. The cutest dessert we tried was something known as pufferkijs (roughly translated to “little puffs”) which are these small fluffy pancakes served with syrup, chocolate, icing sugar, or any other variety of sweet topping. So tasty.
By the way, while we were wandering from shop to shop we learned that the reason many Amsterdam houses have little mirrors outside their windows was for the grannies to spy on the streets without being seen (very sneaky). Also, you’ll notice all the houses have hooks coming off the roof. Why? To lift furniture into the apartments through the windows since the stairwells are so small. Some houses even slant forward so that while furniture was being brought up it wouldn’t damage the facade.
If you were like us, you’ll also notice some houses slant in other directions… These topsie turvy houses unfortunately aren’t meant to be that way and just have a damaged foundations.
Coffee Shops vs Cafés
And for those who are naive to the Netherlands we thought we would clarify that a “coffee shop” is a place to go for marijuana and tobacco while a “cafe” is where you go for the usual lattes and snacks. Just thought we’d let you know…
We didn’t spend time in these, but we did enjoy some little canal side restaurants for our own little food feasts:
We booked our Jordaan food tour through Eating Amsterdam Tours and overall enjoyed our time. They had young, knowledgable guides who took us around to the various locations. They were very easy going and were willing to talk about more than just food and give recommendations on Amsterdam as a city and not just food. The only criticism is that at times they were overly scripted.
As a brief side note, we did not have the chance to go to Browerij T’ij, but if you do then definitely take the opportunity as the beer was fantastic!